Take the Colonial Columbia tour and you’ll find yourself in places that time seems to have forgotten; towns so perfectly preserved, so atmospheric, you can imagine yourself living there several centuries ago. Bogota shows you the recent history following independence, Villa de Leyva has fossils dating back 120 million years and Barichara is so unspoiled it’s a National Architectural Monument. Caratgena’s massive fortifications will talk to you of pirates and Spanish galleons. Then it’s time to relax, on a beach beside the world’s third largest coral reef.
London – Bogota
Fly from London Heathrow late in the evening and arrive in Bogota early the following morning, to be met and taken to your hotel. You’ll be in a great place to explore the lively shops, restaurants and historic centre of Bogota, and the next day you’ll go on a tour through ancient La Candelaria, soaking up the atmosphere of its old Spanish casonas with their wrought iron window grilles, balconies, courtyards and beautiful gardens. You can stroll around Plaza Bolívar featuring the famous statue of Simón Bolívar and the cathedral – worth going inside to view over four centuries’ worth of liturgical and ornamental objects. Next comes the Capilla del Sagrario and Museo Botero, offering masterpieces by Picasso, Renoir, Dalí, Matisse, Monet and Giacometti. The Museo de Oro features nearly 34,000 gold and 20,000 artefacts in stone, ceramic and precious stones from the Quimbaya, Calima, Tairona, Sinu, Muisca, Tolima, Tumaco and Magdalena cultures.
Stay: Two nights in a standard room at the Movich Chico 97
Villa de Leyva
Now you head north across the central savannah and Colombia’s dazzling flower plantations. You’ll stop off to marvel at a phenomenal piece of engineering – a cathedral built entirely from salt from nearby mines – before arriving at Villa de Layva. Here you’ll be staying in a carefully converted colonial mansion originally built in 1860, giving you the chance to amble around the untouched colonial town. Your half day tour will take you around the archaeological centre at El Infiernito, the Fossil Museum – where a 120,000,000 year old kronosaurus fossil was discovered – and the nearby Convento del Sante Ecce Homo founded by the Dominicans in 1620.
Stay: Two nights in a standard room at Posada de San Antonio.
More colonial treasures await in Barichara, a six hour trip away. Declared a National Architectural Monument, the local houses are white highlighted in pastel shades and feature cloisters, internal gardens, quaint tiled roofs and intricate stone masonry. You’ll be staying in a fine example, in fact, within easy reach of the historic cathedral, Plaza Principal and the Alcaldia – an imposing colonial edifice including the monument to the Hormiga Culona. At the other end of the town you’ll find Capilla de Santa Barbara, featuring a huge ceiba tree considered sacred by the indigenous Guane people, and there are outstanding viewpoints over the Suarez river valley and the town. In the Casa de Arte de Oficios local artists display their work.
Stay: Two nights in a standard room at La Nube.
Cartagena conjures up notions of pirates, Spanish gold and fortified city walls with cannons facing out to sea. It’s a largely accurate picture; today Cartagena is a treasure house of civil, religious, military and governmental buildings dating back to the colonial period. The city deserves its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List and you’ll tour spectacular places like Monasterio and Iglesia de La Popa with its stunning 360º views over the city, ocean and port. The San Felipe Fortress gives you the chance to gain an insight into the castle’s engineering, tunnels, underground galleries and passageways. Wandering around the Ciudad Vieja brings you to the Convent and Church of San Pedro Claver and the Bovedas. This quaint parade of archways is built into Cartagena’s city walls. Once an armoury and a prison, today it’s a centre for artists and artisans displaying local handcrafts.
Stay: Three nights in a superior junior suite at Ananda Boutique Hotel.
Now for something completely different. You fly out of antiquated Cartagena and arrive on the Islands of San Andres. Discovered by Christopher Columbus and declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000, these idyllic islands give you the opportunity to relax on fine sand beaches, sip cocktails beneath shading palms, swim in a warm sea and indulge in endless pampering in your hotel spa.
Stay: One night in a junior suite at Casa Harb.
Another short flight lands you in Providencia where the theme of sea, sun, sand and ultimate relaxation continues. The island feels like time stood still somewhere in the 1950s and is the perfect place for beach lazing, water sports and scuba diving or snorkelling. A colourful wooden bridge links you to Santa Catalina, another island sharing Providencia’s listing as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, due to its breath-taking coral reef – the third largest in the world. With its tranquil beaches and calm waters you’d never guess that the islands were once home to ferocious Mismito Indians and the infamous Captain Morgan who used the islands as a base from which to attack Spanish treasure ships.
Stay: Three nights in a deluxe ocean view room at Hotel Deep Blue.
Providencia – Bogota – London
From Providencia you’ll fly to San Andres and then Bogota to meet your international flight back to London, arriving in the middle of the afternoon on the following day.